BAGHDAD - A leading Iraqi newspaper said on Monday Iraq could defeat any U.S. attack after Washington threatened to step up use of military force in response to Baghdad's attempt last week to shoot down a U.S. U-2 spy plane.
"Iraqis' resistance against the American and British aggression is growing, which will secure a final defeat to the aggressors and force them to leave our national air space," the ruling Baath party newspaper al-Thawra said.
"The Iraqis...now have the capability, power and will to contain any new aggression and foil its aims," it said.
In Washington, a senior U.S. official said on Sunday Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was on the U.S. "radar scope" and the Bush administration would use military force against his government in a "more resolute manner" than in the past.
Iraqi anti-aircraft defences came close to hitting a high-altitude U-2 spy plane with a missile last Tuesday. According to a U.S. account, the modified Russian-made missile just missed the plane in a "no-fly zone" over southern Iraq.
Iraq denied on Saturday that its defences had fired a missile at the U-2, saying U.S. officials wanted to create a pretext for a fresh military attack against Iraq.
U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice declined on Sunday to speculate on when President George W. Bush might order an attack against Iraq.
"But I can be certain of this and the world can be certain of this: Saddam Hussein is on the radar screen for the administration," she said on CNN's "Late Edition" programme.
The administration was working with friends and allies to craft a broad policy toward Iraq that among other things looked at the use of "military force in a more resolute manner and not just a manner of tit-for-tat with them every day," she said.
Bush said last week Saddam remained a menace and a threat to U.S. and international security a decade after the Gulf War.
U.S. and British warplanes have been patrolling no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi troops were ousted from Kuwait by a U.S.-led coalition.
Iraq was banned from using all aircraft, including helicopters, in the zones, set up by Western powers to protect minority Kurds and Shiites from attack by Saddam's forces.
No allied aircraft have been lost, although the Iraqi military has repeatedly fired anti-aircraft guns and missiles at the warplanes, which have responded by dropping bombs and firing missiles at Iraqi air defence sites.
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